There has been growing pressure being put on the government by various different campaigners and groups to form and publish a brand-new tobacco control plan which they have been promising to do for quite a while now.
One of the more recent groups to come forward and urge the Government to take action are several leaders from within the Mental Health sector writing to Steve Barclay, the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care urging for action to be taken and a new tobacco control plan published as soon as possible. The group is made up of 25 organisations who want to reduce the disparities in smoking rates between people who suffer and people who do not suffer from mental health conditions.
In this article, I’m going to take a look at the letter put forward to Mr Barclay, as well as looking at how smoking can affect someone’s mental health, and how quitting smoking and starting the regularly use an e-cigarette could potentially lead to an improvement on a person’s mental health.
How does smoking affect a person’s mental health?
DID YOU KNOW? There are around 1.6 million people who suffer with depression and anxiety that are current smokers in the UK?
And did you also know that smoking is the leading contributor to the 10–20-year gap life expectancy between those people who have mental health conditions compared to those who do not.
There’s proven evidence that shows that Smoking is associated with the increase of risk of developing Schizophrenia and depression while on the flip side, quitting smoking may be as effective for somebodies’ mental health as what taking prescribed anti-depressant medication would be for a person.
In a separate study conducted by Action on Smoking and Health, they take a look at smoking rates amongst people who suffer from Mental Health Conditions, with the highest being people with Personality Disorders, closely followed by people who suffer from Depression and/or Anxiety.
They say that the “self-medication” option is one explanation for it, with people turning to cigarettes as an outlet to help alleviate any stress they may be feeling. However, it’s widely believed that these symptoms a person are suffering from can be heightened by smoking tobacco due to the chemical properties of tobacco and all of the various and largely unknown things added into tobacco which people then smoke.
Can quitting smoking improve a person’s mental health?
The question you may be asking yourself after reading the above, is the one that is the sub heading of this portion of the article and that is “can quitting smoking improve a person’s mental health?”
The report released by ASH looked at studies that explored the association between smoking and new incidence of mental health as well as subsequent worsening of mental health conditions that were already existent, and unfortunately there couldn’t be a conclusion reached that helping a person quit smoking could potentially improve their mental health.
They instead took a look at over 60 randomised controlled trials which showed that people who suffered with anxiety and depression symptoms saw a small improvement for those who decided to quit, compared to those who did not quit.
ASH did admit that the evidence provided was low-quality and said there was a large risk of bias being formed which decreased the quality, but still there was no strong evidence found that quitting smoking can worsen a person’s mental health. And instead, could potentially improve them in the long term.
What the Mental Health Leaders wants to achieve from writing to Steve Barclay
Reverting back to the main subject of this article, and we’re going to take a look in detail at the letter that was written by the Coalition of Mental Health leaders and sent through to Steve Barclay explaining exactly what they want from the Government to help people suffering from mental health issues that may be wanting to quit smoking.
The letter’s collaborative authors argue the fact that actions to address smoking amongst people who suffer with mental health conditions may have been “inadequate” and the lack of evidence to show the Government are actually working towards their Smoke Free 2030 goal is creating a fear that this goal will not be achieved.
Javed Khan claims this goal will be missed unless more is done
If you didn’t already know, Dr Javed Khan was commissioned to create a report that looked into the current state of affairs regarding smoking amongst the adult population in England, and whether or not their goal of England being Smoke Free by 2030 would be achieved.
Dr Khan took into account everything that was happening at the time of his report being written and deemed it would be 2037 before the target was met, and even further down to 2045 in more deprived areas of the country before the target of 5% or below of the population being current smokers.
He made critical recommendations within the report, with one of them being that the Government tackles the issue of mental health and smoking by improving public and professional awareness of the benefits of quitting smoking for mental health improvement, motivating people who suffer badly with mental health conditions to quit smoking, and making the play of quitting smoking an essential part on their road to recovery.
Reverting back to the letter penned by the coalition, they claim that the current rate of decline that is continuing to happen will mean that smokers with mental health conditions won’t become “smoke free” until the year 2050, which is a staggering 20 year difference from the original 2030 end goal.
What the leaders want to happen next
I’m fully onside with this team of Mental Health Leaders calling for some action being taken by the Government to help make their own goal an achievable one for the sake of all involved that it would affect.
Professor Ann McNeill, who’s a Professor of Tobacco Addiction at King’s College London and also one of the signatories put on this letter to the Government is quoted to saying:
“The roll out of NHS support for smokers in mental health services is an important step in reducing rates of smoking among people with mental health conditions.
“But as the Khan review says, this is only one piece of the puzzle. We need a national strategy to motivate more people with mental health conditions to make a quit attempt, increase awareness of the benefits of quitting for mental health and offer targeted stop smoking support to people with common mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.”
And I think she has hit the nail right on the head with that statement. A national strategy is needed to help motivate more people to make a quit attempt, and offering targeted stop smoking support to people who have common mental health conditions is absolutely crucial.
Stop Smoking services need support
Stop Smoking services on the whole need a huge investment and backing by the Government in my opinion. Dr Khan made a critical recommendation suggesting a similar thing as these services are an absolutely crucial service that helps numerous amounts of people to quit smoking.
However, the amount of Stop Smoking services in the country is vastly outnumbered by the amount of people wanting to quit and they simply cannot keep up with demand. This means there are no end of people out there not getting the help and support they need to quit smoking, and they then continue to smoke due to the lack of support available.
If there was more investment and strategy introduced from the Government, the amount of services could be increased and the number of smokers will start to dwindle down towards the magic 5% goal that the Government wants to achieve.
And more investment to create specialist services dedicated to helping people who suffer from mental health conditions is even more crucial, as this will require further specialist staff trained to deal with people who are suffering from mental health conditions.
I really hope that more will start to be done, and a follow up response to this letter is given by the Government as something like this cannot be ignored, and there needs to be some forthcoming and strategies released by the Government to in still faith to the general public that something is being done to make this goal an achievable one.